Witness in Spite of Himself

Victor Klemperer’s Diaries of 20th-century Germanies
  • Nathan Stoltzfus


Like the Bible, Victor Klemperer’s diaries have been used to shore up sundry, sometimes contradictory arguments. Who were ordinary Germans, and what was their relationship to Hitler? How did they interact with Nazi anti-Semitism? How much did they know about the genocide of Jews, and when? Why didn’t more Jews leave Germany while the Reich was still pushing for this? On these and other questions, the honesty of Klemperer’s day-to-day record leads to incongruities, over time. Rich and complex, the diaries do not often allow a single interpretation on the matters they concern most. Since we have so few authentic sources from the time, Klemperer’s diaries provide us with a rare view from behind the curtains of everyday life in the Third Reich.


Authentic Source United States Government Printing Idealize Notion Ration Card Nazi Ideology 
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  1. 1.
    Viktor Klemperer, Ich will Zeugnis ablegen bis zum letzten, ed. Walter Nowojski (Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag, 1996).Google Scholar
  2. and Victor Klemperer, I will Bear Witness, trans. Martin Chalmers, 2 vols. (New York: Random House, 1998, 2000). Martin Chalmers’s careful translation of Klemperer is often excellent considering how extraordinarily challenging this is. For example, Chalmers in one instance translates the word ‘geistig’ as ‘spiritual’, a term that seems odd for the atheist Klemperer, who steadfastly refuses the comfort of believing in death, does not use terms like ‘soul’ and relies only on fate to deliver miracles. This translation is nevertheless acceptable in its context, given the general tenor of Klemperer’s struggle to adapt to his environment by mid-1942 (29 August 1942).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See Klemperer’s diaries, 1945–1949 and 1950–1959, Viktor Klemperer, So sitze ich denn zwischen allen Stühlen, ed. Walter Nojowski (Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag, 1999).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See for example Gustav Schiefler, Unsere Kulturellen Verantwortungen nach dem Kriege: Vortrag gehalten in der hamburger Kustgesellschaft am 30. September 1914 (Hamburg: L. Friederichsen & Co., 1914).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved, trans. Raymond Rosenthal (New York: Summit Books, 1988).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Victor Klemperer relied on his diaries in publishing Lingua Tertii Imperii: Notizbuch eines Philologen (Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag, 1949).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning, Ilse Latsch, trans. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1962).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Vaclev Havel, ‘The Power of the Powerless’ in Open Letters: Selected Writings 1965–1990 (New York: Vintage Books, 1992), p. 132.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Ursula Büttner estimates that only 7 to 10 percent of intermarried Germans in the ‘Old Reich’ divorced, based on statistics through October 1942 from Hamburg and Baden-Württemberg. Ursula Büttner, Die Not der Juden teilen: Christlich-jüdische Familien im Dritten Reich (Hamburg: Hans Christians Verlag, 1988): 57. Beatte Meyer, who wrote that every surviving Jew in Hamburg in May 1945 was part of an intermarriage, studied the divorce rate among 130 randomly surviving court records of divorce among intermarried couples in Hamburg and estimated a higher rate of divorce.Google Scholar
  10. Beate Meyer, Jüdische Mischlinge:’ Rassenpolitik und Verfolgungserfahrung 1933–1945 (Hamburg: Dölling und Galitz, 1999): 25, 26, 73.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Bruno Blau, Das Ausnahmerecht fuer die Juden in Deutschland, 1933–1945 (Duesseldorf: Verlag Allgemeine Wochenzeitung der Juden in Deutschland, 1965): 64 ff; Heydrich quote, Nuremberg Document PS-1816.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    The court concluded that Nosske may have ‘suffered some inconveniences because of his unwillingness to shoot the people of Duesseldorf, [but] he was not shot or even degraded.’ Ruth Andreas-Friedrich, Schauplatz Berlin: ein deutsches Tagebuch (Munich: Rheinbsberg Verlag G. Lentz, 1962), entry for 19 January 1945. Case 9, (Einsatzgruppen Case, U.S. v. Ohlendorf et. al.), in Trials of War Criminals Before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals under Control Law No. 10 (Washington, D.C., United States Government Printing Office, 1949–1954 and Buffalo: William S. Hein & Co., 1997), vol.IV, 558, 59.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2001

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  • Nathan Stoltzfus

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